GLAM: Karen Du Toit on Working in Audio-Visual Archives

AV archives worldwide have a major headache that needs being addressed yesterday already!

“International consensus holds that we have around 15 years in which to preserve our sound collections. By 2030, the scarcity of older equipment, the condition of recorded media and the loss of skills will make their preservation costly, difficult and, in many cases, impossible.” James Knight: National Audit of UK Sound Collections

In the Radio Archives we still work on a daily basis with reel-to-reel-tapes, mini-disc cassettes, audio cassettes, compact discs and acetate records. We have huge backlogs of audio material on these formats that needs to be digitised. We are trying to address the issue by digitising while we are doing requests from these formats. We also had interns digitising some of the material while they were here on internship programmes. It is of course not enough! Some of our formats are degrading faster than the rest, such as the mini-disc cassettes which only have a ten year lifespan. The reel-to-reel tapes have proved to be one of the most long-lasting and durable of all the formats.

There have been plans on the table for years for a Media Asset Management Systems for all the AV collections, but it has not come to fruition, most probably because of the huge cost associated with it! In the meantime we are able to electronically save our most recent audio feeds that we are receiving, and to keep it on separate servers. It has made a huge impact on simplifying our work processes, and making it easier and faster to do requests for our clients. The next step is to get the radio archives in the regions on the same workflows and servers as are being done in Johannesburg.

I would love to see that archivists and librarians do not operate in the silos that we do! We all work with content that we want to make available to our users. The format of the content differs, but we all have the same issues with regards manpower, budgets and staying up to date with the latest technological advances in our fields.


Karen du Toit, archivist at the SABC Radio Archives, has been working in audiovisual (AV) archives since 1990. She was an archivist at the SABC News Archives and after a period in Newspaper Clippings she is now working in the same broadcasting corporation’s audio archives.

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